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Sunday, July 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Senators’ Letter Delays Dune Lizard Protection

WASHINGTON (CN) - After two U.S. senators intervened, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has delayed for six months a decision on adding the dunes sagebrush lizard to the Endangered Species list. The agency also reopened the public comment period on the proposal for 45 days.

Citing "significant disagreement" about the conservation status of the species in New Mexico and Texas and "sparse information" about the presence of the lizard in Texas, the agency said it wanted more public input to help clarify the issue.

The agency delayed the listing a little over a week after Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar asking for the delay, because "the proposed listing of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard is not supported by adequate population viability evidence."

Cornyn and Inhofe went on to cite research from New Mexico State University and Texas Tech suggesting that many of the claims made in the proposed listing were "not scientifically defensible" and were based on faulty methodology.

In a press release, Cornyn said that he was pleased with the agency's decision and that it was "essential that the job creators who will be directly impacted have the opportunity to have their concerns heard before this potentially devastating listing goes forward."

With its 2010 listing proposal, the USFWS opened a 60-day comment period. Then, in April 2011, the agency held two public meetings on the proposal and reopened the comment period for another 30 days.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the agency has a year after a proposed listing to finalize the listing, withdraw it or extend the final determination by no more than six months.

The small, light brown lizard was been under consideration for federal protection since 1982. The agency decided in December 2004 that listing the species was warranted but precluded by higher priority listing actions.

In its most recent proposal, the agency said the lizard is in danger of extinction due to habitat loss and fragmentation from oil and gas exploration and extraction activities.

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